Much of America's interstate highways system, dams, bridges and electrical grid were built over 50 years ago, and intended to last - just 50 years. As a result this infrastructure is rapidly beginning to deteriorate, rust, corrode, and fall apart. And even after the Levee failure of Katrina, the collapse of the I-35 bridge, the Great NorthEast Blackout, we remain blissfully and dangerously unaware of just how much risk we're living with on a daily basis.
THE HISTORY CHANNEL: America’s infrastructure is collapsing. Tens of thousands of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. A third of the nation’s highways are in poor or mediocre shape. Massively leaking water and sewage systems are creating health hazards and contaminating rivers and streams. Weakened and under-maintained levees and dams tower over communities and schools. And the power grid is increasingly maxed out, disrupting millions of lives and putting entire cities in the dark. The Crumbling of America explores these problems using expert interviews, on location shooting and computer generated animation to illustrate the kinds of infrastructure disasters that could be just around the bend.
The worst situation discussed in the special is the water seepage into the Wolf Creek Dam in Tenneesee. The Dam was originally built using limestone, but the porous qualities of that stone we're completely understood at the time, as a result the dam has been seeping water for decades - water which would weaken it's base by turning it into a soft slurry and undermining it's base. The Army Corp of Engineers has a project to help this problem by building an underground wall to block the water which is scheduled to be completed in 2012, because a previously built underground wall has failed to do exactly the same thing.
If this new wall also fails, and seepage succeeds in undermining the dam base, it could eventually collapse and release millions of gallons of water into the Tennesse Valley about 100 miles upstream from Nashville. Moving at about 40 feet per second, this wave would destroy everything in it's path and within about 5-6 hours Nashville would be under 20 feet of water.
It would be like 1000 Katrina's all at once.
Fortunately there is an effort in place to prevent this worst case scenario, just as the I-35 bridge has been rebuilt into a smart bridge with a estimated life-span of 100 years, but this is just one problem among literally thousands of problems. Sagging power lines are creating shorts and overloading systems. Improperly sealed roadways are cracking due to water collection which has begun to rust their rebar re-enforcement. Sewage and Water systems are failing.
The recent massive deadly gas main explosion in Northern California are just symptoms of a much larger problem where more and more of core services on which all of us depend are falling apart right under our feet.
Over the decades what had been issues of national focus, have slowly begun to be fall on the backs of state and local governments that don't have the funding or resources to address the problem. As a result the kind of tragedies we've seen so far, may only be the tip of a very large and very dangerous iceberg.
The History Channel Special will re-air in one week on Tuesday October 6th at 10:00 Am and 4:00 PM.